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Touched by fire

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Exhibit opens to commemorate 10-year anniversary of Cerro Grande Fire

By Jennifer Garcia

Rebirth, regrowth and a community that pulled together was the focus of Los Alamos County Open Space Specialist Crag Martin’s talk on the devastation of the Cerro Grande Fire.  

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“Touched by Fire: Hands that Heal, Hands that Create,” is Mesa Public Library’s newest exhibit. An opening reception was held in the upstairs gallery of the library, Thursday, during which Martin gave his talk to a roomful of people. Martin’s presentation focused on the revitalization efforts made by Los Alamos County residents following the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000.

The result of a controlled burn that got out of control, the fire ripped through approximately 48,000 acres, destroying homes and displacing families. Nearly a decade later, residents still

remember the impact the fire had on their lives and how the community pulled together to help one another.

The exhibit “is intended to showcase both the creativity and volunteer spirit that was brought about by the fire,” according to the county’s Web site. The Mesa Public Library, Pajarito Environmental Education Center, the Volunteer Task Fore and the Los Alamos Family YMCA are sponsoring it.

Martin presented a slideshow that featured before and after photos of the area affected by the fire. The before shots, showed burnt trees and bare hillsides, while the after photos featured grassy hillsides and small trees beginning to crop up.

Martin said during the presentation that children and adults, alike, did the revitalization efforts. He said children made seed balls, which consist of clay, compost, sand and seed, which are rolled into balls and scattered. “They did work,” he said of the seed balls. “You could be 5-years-old or any age and make a ball of mud and say ‘I helped with the recovery process,’ ” he said.

The seed ball-making process was one that seemed to interest many residents as a quarter of a million seed balls were made. “It’s a community doing, I have to thank everyone who contributed,” Martin said.

Students from Mountain Elementary School have been tracking the progress of seedlings that were planted on the Quemazon Trail and revised the Quemazon Nature Trail Guide recently. The students walked the trail and made observations regarding the new growth of trees and grass, as well as the condition of the soil and the animals and insects they saw that had returned the area.

As residents begin to recover from the fire, so does the environment. Martin said that on the Quemazon trail, the rate of survival for seedlings planted after the fire is good. He said that 150 seedlings per acre have survived. “The trees were a little bit shorter,” he said. “The trees on the Mitchell trail are higher, but it looks like a forest to me,” he said regarding the Quemazon seedlings.

Following Martin’s presentation, PEEC’s Earth Day Chairperson Terry Foxx addressed those who turned out for the talk and told them that a series of hikes will take place in celebration of Earth Day.

The first hike will be held at 9 a.m. next Saturday and will take hikers to Dutchess Castle. The second hike will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and will lead hikers to the La Mesa Fire area. The third hike will be held at 9 a.m. April 24 and will give those who are interested a chance to explore the Mitchell Trail. Martin and Michael Di Rosa will lead that hike.

For more information on the hikes or on Earth Day activities, visit www.pajaritoeec.org.